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Theory Question: relationship of G maj and D# maj.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DagoMaino, Jan 12, 2020.

  1. DagoMaino


    Feb 1, 2013
    So I was working on a new piece of music the other day...

    I start composing the piece in D# maj and the verse section on bass just moves back and forth forth between G (minor 3rd) and D#. I get some basic placeholders laid out and invite a singer over to try some melodies. He starts singing in a G maj scale over it, and it sounds good with this interesting minor tension that actually fits the song. The problem comes in in trying to then write other melodies around it for additional instruments. I pull all other instruments out to play over the bass and vocals with a guitar and behold, Gmaj and D#maj chords work over both bass and vocal.

    So note relationships I started with where key of D# maj and starting the progression on the G (minor 3rd). The vocals come in and seemingly change the key of the song to G maj with an aug 5th of D#.

    I’m a typical “took a few theory classes in college” kinda guy but I was wondering if there is a good explanation as to why this seems to work well. It does have a sense of tension to it but not really the dissonance you’d expect from having an aug 5th in a bass line.

    Hoping that I can learn why this works so that I can use it intentionally rather than Bob Ross style “happy mistake”.
    ObsessiveArcher likes this.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I need to get one thing out of the way first: There's no such key as D# Major. (Well, more accurately: D# Major hypothetically exists "in theory" but is seldom used "in practice.")

    Let's compare the keys of G Major (1 sharp) and Eb Major (3 flats) starting the Eb Major scale on G for clarity:

    G Major: G A B C D E F#
    Eb Major: G Ab Bb C D Eb F

    So right off the bat, we see they share only 3 out of 7 notes (G C D). These two keys are more different than alike. If you randomly play a note from the G Major scale, there is only a 42% chance you will be "in key" for Eb Major (and vice versa). There is a greater chance that you'll play a "chromatic" note that is "non-diatonic" or "outside the key." But that is okay! Chromaticism in music is "allowed" and in fact is what gives different genres their unique style. Chromaticism gives a more "jazzy" or "exotic" sound than strictly playing "inside the key" all the time. For example playing the non-diatonic note Bb in the key of G Major (you could think of this as "borrowing" a note from Eb Major) is a very familiar sound in blues or rock.

    However let's dig a little deeper. There is a famous John Coltrane song called "Giant Steps" that modulates through the keys of Eb Major, G Major, and B Major. These keys are separated by the interval of a major 3rd, just like your own composition. So I think you may have accidentally stumbled upon a popular type of harmonic progression (keys separated by a major 3rd or augmented 5th) that was pioneered in the 1950s by composers like John Coltrane. :)
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  3. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    Going to the b6 (G to Eb) is a nice change used in many songs for a slightly startling but still musical sound. I think steely dan and the police used this change a lot.
  4. DagoMaino


    Feb 1, 2013
    thank you for the thoughtful response. I was pretty caught off guard in the moment (probably more so because I thought I was writing in a different key).

    I have to say this change-up added a really different dynamic to the tune that fits the lyrics very well. I found out that I can use the B minor to really define the key at a pivot point in the song that sounds pretty cool. It definitely has a vibe that you don’t hear really often in downbeat electronic music.
  5. DagoMaino


    Feb 1, 2013
    You mentioning The Police actually makes a lot of sense. Admittedly, I have never deeply/actively listened to them to analyze their composition, but that poppy vibe with underlying dark/minorish sense that they often have in their sound is a good comparison to what I’m hearing in my tune. I really need revisit their songs intentionally.
  6. Chromatic mediant - Wikipedia
    This page goes over some of the technical aspects of why the major/minor third relationship works. There's a page on the Coltrane changes also, but it's a bit long winded in comparison to the former link.
    BazzaBass likes this.
  7. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    It sounds like a great way to "blues" the melody with B to Bb. D is a common tone so is G and A. Have fun
    DagoMaino likes this.
  8. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    A recent thread on negative harmony might explain why a bVI maj chord works.
    In the particular approach in the linked video,
    The iii min chord mirrors a bVI maj chord
    The vi min mirrors a bIII maj chord.
    In theory these mirror chords contain notes functionally equal to their reflections.

    I've played around with Swapping in those in a major progression, sounds a lot like 90s grunge to me.
  9. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    You were so close to announcing that term, "Modal Interchange".:roflmao:

    Introduction to Modal Interchange


    "Keep in mind that modal interchange chords can be used in different ways. They can replace their diatonic counterpart, harmonize non-diatonic melodies, act as pivot chords for modulation, or serve as a link between two diatonic chords."

    FatStringer52 and james condino like this.
  10. If you haven't yet, look into Tritone substitution. Tritone (=interval of flat fifth) in seven chords is third and flat seven - B and F in G7. You can substiture another seven chord with the same tritone, which is C#7 (tritone F and B). This works. Theory says it works because the chords have two common tones at the most important 'position' in chord - 3rd and 7th. I see it most often in two closing chords of blues songs (Ab7-G7 in G, Ab7 subs for dominant function D7).

    In your Gmaj7 (G B D F#) - Ebmaj7 (Eb G Bb D) example, the chords share two common tones, G and D. These tones are 'basic' for Gmaj7 (tonic and fifth) and 'characteristic' for Ebmaj7 (third and major seventh). I imagine your music might easily feel 'common' in the Gmaj part, and 'spacy' in the Ebmaj part. The alteration of these two feels might be enough to make the song interesting.

    If you sing Bb instead of B on the G chord, it might suggest there's a single simple scale that should work over both chords: G harmonic minor (G A Bb C D Eb F# G). In this case you might try to use GminMaj7 (G Bb D F#) chord instead of Gmaj7. It probably wouldn't sound better on itself, but it might help to connect the arrangement of the song easier.

    In my experience, when a singer is demanded to improvise a line over too difficult chord changes, he/she tends to create too simple lines. But I grew up on hiphop :)

    Ears first, theory later. Good luck!
    DagoMaino likes this.
  11. What “minor 3rd” are you talking about? G is the major 3rd of Eb. If you’re meaning G WITH a minor 3rd, or G minor, then that chord would be diatonic from Eb major and they will sound great together. But you keep mentioning G major as a chord, then throw in this “minor 3rd” remark. I think you mean, “G (Major 3rd).”

    Also, you haven’t mentioned extensions. Are you using any 7ths, 9ths, 13ths in your chords? If you are keeping them triads you’ll have less clashing notes between the two chords and more freedom for melody/bass lines. If the D# has a major 7th and the G has a minor/flat 7th then you’ll have more notes in common.
  12. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Somehow, it's very difficult for my TB colleagues to say, "Modal Interchange" and/or a "Borrowed Chord".

    Borrowed chord - Wikipedia

    "A borrowed chord (also called mode mixture,[1] modal mixture,[2] substituted chord,[3] modal interchange[1], or mutation[4]) is a chord borrowed from the parallel key (minor or major scale with the same tonic). Borrowed chords are typically used as "color chords", providing harmonic variety through contrasting scale forms, which are major scales and the three forms of minor scales.[2] Chords may also be borrowed from other parallel modes besides the major and minor mode, for example D Dorian with D major."

    Modal Interchange -
    "An excellent way to spice up your creations would be to familiarize yourself with the concept of modal interchange, also known as modal mixture."

    Introduction to Modal Interchange

    Let's take the G major scale.

    basicmusictheory.com: G major chords


    The G major scale triad chords - I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viio


    Modal interchange means borrowing chords from a parallel tonality.

    "When referring to parallel, I mean tonalities/modalities of any given quality that share the same root."

    Here is the G natural minor scale.

    basicmusictheory.com: G minor chords


    the G minor scale triad chords i, iio, III, iv, v, VI, VII

    Here is our first example of that Modal Interchange.
    Instead of playing two measures of G major, let "interchange" it to
    Gmaj - Gmin.

    I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viio - the major scale triads.
    i, iio, III, iv, v, VI, VII - the minor (natural) scale triads.

    I (in G maj) interchanges to i (in G minor).

    Next example.

    A two chord progression - G major - E min.
    Let's borrow that VI from the parallel minor - Eb maj.

    Now, we have G major - Eb major.

    "Finally, here are several general guidelines to keep in mind when using modal interchange:

    Make sure that there is no conflict between the melody and the chords.
    Make sure that the original key is clearly established.
    Modal interchange chords should be preceded- and followed by diatonic chords.
    Do not overuse. This could lead to an unwanted modulation or create an ambiguous key center.
    If using two or more modal interchange chords in row, be careful not to create a cadence to the I chord of the relative Ionian."
    Xad and FatStringer52 like this.
  13. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I've always thought of Borrowed Chords as not altering any of the roots involved.
    At least most examples I see cited never use roots outside the key
    Like C Amin Dmin G7 becomes C A7 Dmin G7

    I guess there's nothing in the idea prohibiting the use of borrowed chords whose roots are chromatic to the key.
    Like C Amin Dmin G7 becomes C Eb Dmin G7

    In fact there seems to be nothing in the idea prohibiting any chord choice.
    Except perhaps you pick the chords that sound good
    So, as an explanation for the OP's question of why Eb works over a G maj tune,
    "it's a borrowed chord" seems lacking.

    At the end of the day of course, Kurt Cobain and many otehrs probably never thought "I'll use modal interchange" nor "I'll use mirrored harmony" , but rather "this chord sounds cool here."
  14. DagoMaino


    Feb 1, 2013
    Sorry, I wrote that in a confusing way. What I meant was that, when I was originally writing from the perspective of a song in Eb maj, the G is the 3rd and would also be a minor triad in that key. Then the vocal melody re-established the key as a G maj with Eb being the aug 5th... I'm not sure I said that correctly, but I think you kinda know what I mean. When I say I'm a "took a few theory classes in college" kinda guy... college was quite some time ago, and I primarily communicate with your typical band dudes, so my musical linguistics are rusty to say the least.
  15. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    Chittenango, NY
    Now you have an opportunity for a C-flat note . :roflmao:

    As in, a V7b2 chord, one I find really tasty. It occurs (in another key) right at the end of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". I think it actually would be spelled with a Cb, though obviously it's a B.

    As in, Bb D F Ab Cb

    Theory gets a little silly with naming chords like this, we could say that's an augmented octave also, but whatevs. Or just notice it's a diminished seventh triad on top of that Bb root.
  16. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
  17. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Mushroo's never-silly (always cheeky) style guide:
    1. By definition, it is never incorrect to notate chords correctly and accurately. For example to write a diminished 7th chord using a diminished 7th interval: Cdim7 = C Eb Gb Bbb
    2. However, as a matter of courtesy to the performer, the arranger may choose to write chord tones as their enharmonic equivalents (for example write a major 6th instead of a diminished 7th), if it avoids some tricky sight-reading situation. For example you could write Cdim7 = C Eb Gb A if that makes more sense in the surrounding musical context.
    3. But please don't choose to write chord tones as their enharmonic equivalents, if that letter name is already in use by another chord tone! You are correct to say Bb7b9 = Bb D F Ab Cb rather than have two different B's (flat and natural). Another common example, in blues/rock we often hear a chord like C E G Bb Eb and our ears think, maybe it has both a major and minor 3rd in it? But according to our style guide, we can't have two different E's, so we re-write it as C E G Bb D# = C7#9 the "Hendrix chord."
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
    Whousedtoplay likes this.
  18. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    Chittenango, NY
    While not silly, it's cheeky to call it your style guide. Any decent theory class teaches this. And ooops, yes, I meant to write b9, not b2. b2 would not be nearly as tasty, IMO.
    Mushroo likes this.
  19. So the G here isn’t the third. It’s the diminished fourth, and it isn’t in your scale.

    D# E# F## G# A# B# C## are the notes of your scale.

    Enharmonically, you could change to Eb as your scale, and your notes would be Eb (D#)
    F (E#)
    G (F##)
    Ab (G#)
    Bb (A#)
    C (B#)
    D (C##)

    So if you are going to play in D# major, playing a G is a diminished fourth, while F## is the major third. Enharmonically, they are the same note, but they are functionally different.

    If you decide you’re going to play in Eb major, then the G is your major third.
  20. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    You are borrowing chords from a parallel TONALITIES, from the parallel KEY.
    You have diatonic chords of G major and, in our case, you are borrowing diatonic chords from ANY form of G minor - natural, harmonic, melodic, Dorian.
    The ROOT, G, remains the same.

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